In the current entertainment landscape where every piece of content seems to be geared for a relativity short attention span, it’s quite a hefty challenge to create a storyline that’s weighty enough to move through three hours of television without losing viewers along the way.
This was the edict dictated by uber-producer Dick Wolf to the staffs of the three shows he currently has on the air, Chicago Fire, Law & Order: SVU and Chicago PD.
Well, let’s be honest here, it was more like two and a quarter hours as the crossover really began in the last fifteen minutes of Chicago Fire when the remnants of a blaze revealed a box stuffed with photos of child pornography.
Upon finding the pictures, the CF crew called in the Detectives Lindsay and Voight from the Chicago PD team. After discovering that her half-brother was in some of the photos, Lindsay reached out to Detective Rollins in New York, the last known location that Lindsay had for her estranged sibling.
That’s where things picked up on SVU.
When Lindsay and detective Halstead arrived in the 16th Precinct, the pace of the story picked up and the search for Teddy, Lindsay’s half-brother was on. The desire to find Teddy was not just to get him off the street but also to shut down the child pornography ring that was still in operation. A live internet broadcast, featuring a young boy being forced to perform viewer requests no matter how horrid, was just hours away.
The countdown to the live feed and the desire to shut it down sets up a rapidly ticking clock for the team and almost immediately there are victims identified and questioned, which leads to a succession of suspects who are subsequently captured and interrogated. Every move is extremely intriguing and quite satisfyingly confusing in the effort to unravel who’s calling the shots as the head of the pornography ring. It all works in the end and thankfully the detectives are able to rescue the boy just in the nick of time.
While the large conglomerate of detectives are busy doing their jobs, it’s many of the smaller nuanced moments that stand out: Halstead attempting to explain his relationship with Lindsay to Rollins and Amaro, who look knowingly at each other, understanding that in this line of work there’s often some confusion about what “working together” can actually mean, the reference to Benson as “Mama Bear,” a role that she plays well and is comfortable with but that no one, until now, has actually called out, and Benson herself, lecturing Voight on how the use of force to get information out of a suspect can make things go south in a hurry, even going so far as to reference her former partner and his penchant for aggression in the interrogation room.
All of this is a great use of history on the part of the SVU creative team. The PD team doesn’t have the luxury of this type of memoir within their squad but there is some background to be used, particularly with Voight and Lindsay. We’ve known since the beginning of the series that somehow Voight is responsible for taking care of Lindsay in some capacity from a young age, but we still don’t know exactly how that came to be. It’s a great nugget that was used well in this storyline.
What both the SVU team and the PD team have in common is the bond of family; a theme that SVU executive producer Warren Leight has said will be prevalent through his show this season.
It’s not just the obvious family connections that work here, like Lindsay and her brother (and her mother), it’s Lindsay mothering the young girl she rescues; it’s Officer Platt schooling all of the officers about how to react to a fallen comrade, and it’s the sight of that officer’s family as they carry his belongings out of the precinct to the salute of hundreds of fellow officers who know that he gave his life in service of his job.
What a contrast all of these scenes were against the backdrop of the actual crime story in these episodes, one that featured a foster family, with the help of an official at the Division of Family Services, as the main culprits in the sex trafficking of children. Every aspect of this case made some statement, sadly, often in a queasy manner, about the often misguided notion of trust within a family, especially when it comes to the care of children.
While Mr. Leight and Chicago Fire/PD executive producer Matt Olmstead were initially hesitant about how to pull off this feat, they promised a fast-moving storyline that would greatly utilize all of the show leads in a true crossover. They were true to their word here as the episode zipped along and every character was successfully integrated into the narrative in a satisfying manner that kept each character completely true to his/her nature. Well done, gentlemen.
A few more thoughts about the SVU/PD double dose:
While the intermingling of established SVU and CPD characters was great to watch, it would be a huge oversight not to give a commendation of some sort to actor Lou Taylor Pucci whose performance as Lindsay’s extremely damaged brother, Teddy, really tied the two shows together. His portrayal of the fragile victim, and victimizer, was equal parts cringe-worthy and heart-wrenching, a combination that is incredibly difficult to pull off. Watching him struggle to come to terms with the direction his life had taken gave the narrative a deeper meaning than had this just been a case of the week. The fact that he’s Lindsay’s brother only added to the drama and hopefully the question of how she ended up being a cop and how he ended up taking a decidedly different unplanned path will be slowly revealed in the future.
In the end, when Teddy’s able to help solve the puzzle and bring down the leader of the trafficking ring, he seems to have a bit of closure with regard to that part of his life, a peace of mind that may or may not allow him to move in a more positive direction. Whatever happens to Teddy, let’s hope that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him, good or bad, as he quickly established himself as an enormously relevant part of Lindsay’s personal life.
Speaking of Lindsay, her presence, along with Halstead and Voight in the SVU squad room made the often dark, cavernous space seem a bit more congested, as did the presence of Rollins, Amaro and Benson in the Chicago precinct, but not in a bad way. While the respective squads are clearly smaller without the addition of visiting members, it made the often-intimate investigations bigger, with not just more physical man (and woman) power, but more brainpower to work through the case. The wider shots needed to contain all of the characters created a slightly different feel for both shows, one that while interesting on a limited basis, would be difficult to maintain at a satisfactory level on a continual basis. Overall, it’s fun to see all of these characters interact in the short term but trying to service all of them on a weekly basis would completely change the dynamic of both shows. So working together on occasion is great, but sticking to the smaller squads is a real plus.
But having said that, there was something very exciting about seeing the dynamic between Benson and Lindsay. Yes, much has been discussed about the pairing of Benson and Voight, and we’ll get to that, but watching these two women work together provided some of the most interestingly unstated moments of these episodes.
It may not have been highlighted, but a case could be made that this story arc featured a glimpse into Lindsay’s future as she worked alongside Benson. Thinking back, Benson was very much like the ambitious Lindsay all those years ago when she first began her career at SVU and just look where she is now.
During the course of this investigation, Lindsay had a front-row seat to watch Benson go from gently getting a victim to recall her trauma for the sake of stopping the people who hurt her, to then very physically taking down a fleeing suspect, all while maintaining her professionalism and looking out for the well-being of everyone involved in proceedings. The contrast to where Benson began and the position she holds now was interesting to see, particularly set against the character of Lindsay who’s seemingly similar journey has just begun.
It’s a bit of a shame that Lindsay wasn’t present to see the aforementioned interaction between Benson and Voight. The mutual respect between the two was obvious, while their policing styles couldn’t have been more different. But, that’s not to say that they didn’t use each other’s strengths very well.
Given his statue and implied tenure with the CPD, Voight has clearly been in the game awhile, but it was Benson who really shined in showing him that scaring a perp isn’t always the best way to go. When the head of the sex trafficking ring is finally caught, Voight attempts to rough him up to get him to talk. Benson on the other hand, plays on his emotions and in a quiet, carefully-crafted speech that has clearly been honed throughout the years, she tells him that even though he’s going to prison for the horrible things he’s done, he can claim a sliver of self-redemption by doing some good now, by being human in this moment. The subtly, impassioned plea works. We watch the perp’s hard exterior melt away and he gives up the location of a missing boy.
That speech could only be given, and resonate with such truthfulness, by someone with Benson’s professional and personal experience. Coming from anyone else it would have felt like nothing more than a staged tactic to get a suspect to talk. But with Benson, you believed every word of what she said about striving to do the right thing, no matter what you’ve done in the past, and how that act can bring some peace of mind in the future.
Voight was present to watch this exchange unfold and while it would have been great to see his reaction to Benson’s triumph, there was plenty of interaction between these two during the execution of this investigation.
They butted heads, they worked things out and they made things happen, all in the name of protecting their respective turfs and solving the case. It was fun to see these two go toe-to-toe, each pushing the other to explore new tactics in interrogation. Their chemistry, while not really ignited on the personal side, was clearly the type that “work husband and wife” partnerships are made.
In the final scene of the show, over some bottled beers (sadly not at CF’s favorite watering hole Molly’s) Benson remarks that she didn’t really get to see much of Chicago during her short visit, possibly hinting to Voight that she’d be willing to make a return trip at some point, a prospect that it’s pretty safe to say fans of both shows would welcome with open arms, and given the high ratings that the Chicago crossover provided for all three shows, more inter-show swaps are certainly not out of the realm of possibility.